Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Pitiable Meghalaya going nowhere

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By Airpeace W. Rani

The much acclaimed land blessed by the gods and inhabited by people who have evolved one of the finest socio-religious philosophy in the world, of knowing man and God, Meghalaya became the 21st state of the Indian Union in 1972.  Blessed with salubrious climate, breath taking scenic beauty and natural resources of various kinds, including mineral deposits of importance and inhabited by the people who profess to earn righteousness in their day to day living, Meghalaya deserves a tag of being a blessed land. Counting the blessings of nature, one can conclude that Meghalaya is not poor. In fact it is a state with potential for excellence. Besides the blessings of nature, Meghalaya is also lucky to receive the ‘manna’ from the Central Government worth thousands of crores in every budget. With these extendable concessions and reservations of various sorts, Meghalaya may be considered a modern day Canaan – a land flowing with milk and honey. Alas! Meghalaya is also one of the most dysfunctional and pitiable states in India. The overriding sentiment that people of Meghalaya evoke is one of sympathy. The per capita income, the human development index, poor infrastructure, the suspected frauds, cheap politics, moral degradation and social insecurity solemnly establish a paranoid, paradoxical Meghalaya. Some have termed Meghalaya as a banana state with quite a number of banana people.

With globalization people look for better living standards. With modernization our people too have developed in many ways but at the same time have also bartered away many valuable inherited practices. The tribal society of Meghalaya is juxtaposed by western and Indian cultures. As such our people have imbibed new ways of living in terms of dress, food habits and social relationships to the extent that we have lost touch with our own value system. This new life style has led to the loosening of family ties where parents cannot control their children. The declining role of maternal uncles in family matters and the weakened cohesion among children and between kith and kin is visible. Among the urban middle class, members of the family live in a house which is like a hotel where everyone has a separate room with limited time together. While the hearth is rare to find, the home is disappearing. Fashionable living standards have gone up but living conditions have degenerated considerably.

Social problems that mark our society today are alcoholism, rape, lack of civic sense, corruption, broken-homes, insecurity, apathy, violence etc. 70 percent of the people in Meghalaya are alcoholics; rape occurs almost every day; littering, indiscriminate spitting, bad words etc are the hallmarks of a lack of civic sense in our state. Indicators show that corruption in Meghalaya is very high; thousands of widows and children of single parents indicate broken homes here. People are insecure and overwhelmed by fear psychosis. Thus they are easily misled by anything that sounds good. How do we tackle these evils? Legal prescriptions alone will not curb these problems since their root cause is intrinsic. Normally legal prescriptions should be enforced incorruptible individuals but is that possible? What we need is to revive our own value systems to guide our everyday life. Even social animals like baboons and bonobos have a sense that enables them to live a systematic life even though they have no laws.

‘Busyness’ is the catch word today. We are so busy that we don’t have time for family or friends. We are late for work and many times postpone and cancel plans and appointments. Among those who are the busiest today are the government employees. Some work overtime and some even carry the work home. Busyness is a good sign because it means a person has got work to do. Sometime people ask themselves why they are so busy? There might a number of reasons but that is not our interest here. Our question here is what do you produce after the busyness of the day? A busy bee brings honey to the hive after a busy day? What do we produce? After forty years of statehood, Meghalaya does not have any landmark to be proud of. Meghalaya has not been able to build an Assembly building of its own after the inherited building was gutted. Recently in an interactive session with the Sikyong of Tibet at Convention Centre Shillong, someone termed the House-less Meghalaya Legislative Assembly as the democracy in exile. All state roads in Meghalaya today are in appalling conditions (not to be compared with the roads constructed by NHAI). What is shocking is that while many interior villages in the state do not have pucca roads, some pucca roads have been constructed that lead to jungles without any human habitation or economic activity of importance.

After every census enumeration the population in the state tends to double itself yet power generation remains stagnant. With the increase in population along with the techno-centric living styles there is more demand for power. To meet the additional requirement of power, Meghalaya has adopted a load shedding system. The analogy here is that as the family size grows children must shed their clothes and eat lesser. The story is similar with water supply. The worst case scenario is that with time we have lost many water sources and rivers. Coming to the state capital, one appreciates the government for revamping Police Bazar. It looks grand today after forty years. It was a good initiative except that the beautification project was a scam. However, it is a miserable story as far as Iewduh is concerned. This is the most important market for in the state. Iewduh which is also the biggest open market in North East India was established over a century ago to cater the needs of the people then. Presently Iewduh cannot accommodate the number of shoppers we have. On a Saturday one need not walk for one is jostled around by passers-by. It is not advisable to take children along while shopping in Iewduh for there is a good chance of losing the child or being stampeded upon.

The number of street vendors is increasing at an alarming rate. They occupy all the space in the parking lot and footpaths, so much so that footpaths have turned into rat roads. The street vendors have encroached on the roads in Motphran area. Many of those are paying tax of Rs. 10 a day to the Syiem of Mylliem. What does this mean? Something must be done to revamp the unhygienic Iewduh. If we cannot create new markets why can’t we learn from a congested state like Sikkim on how it built the Kanchenjunga Shopping Complex not to speak of MG Marg? Iewduh has a better potential than Sikkim’s Kanchenjunga Shopping Complex. All that we need is vision, determination and right action. What are we busy at and for whom? Are we serving the people or somebody else? We need to bring appropriate reforms in our administration; an administration which ensures that work gets done and not that files are maintained and well kept. Leaders of the state need not promise us anything, anymore but to show us the tangible results of what they have done.

Revivalism and reforms are important in the march to progress but they must begin at the level of the individual. One can revive or change the system and bring laudable rules and regulations but if individuals are not transformed from within, change will not materialize. For instance, it gave me a shock to know that there are already 52 laws that are framed by the state government to curb influx related problems in Meghalaya but none of them are effective. And now the NGOs demand to implement ILP in the state which would be the 53rd law of its kind in a row. Are we sure this will work if we do not change mindsets? The system and rules are in the hands of individuals to implement. Marcia Daszko and Sheila Sheinbeg in their article “Survival is Optional: Only Leaders with new Knowledge can lead the Transformation” define transformation as ‘the creation and change of a whole new form, function or structure…it is a change of mindsets. Our state needs servant-leaders, not leader-boss. Mahatma Gandhi says, ‘we must be the change we want to see. Hence as responsible citizens of the state let us change ourselves first for a better Meghalaya before clamouring for change of the system and of others.

 

(Author’s email: [email protected])

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